WITH ministers and corporations highlighting the potential of renewables in Scotland we hear from a business whose experience shows the important role played by small firms in delivering giant infrastructure projects.
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What is your business called?
Where is it based?
We’re in the west end of Glasgow, right on the banks of the River Kelvin. We have a front row seat for sightings of kingfishers and even the occasional salmon in the river.
What does it produce, what services does it offer?
We’re an environmental consultancy specialising in ecology, ornithology, peat and hydrology. Our services cover a broad range of surveys including birds, bats, badgers, great crested newts, habitats and peat. We also do more niche work, such as estimating likely collision risks for birds.
We set up our hydrology team more than a year ago, and we now offer services such as water quality monitoring, hydrological impact assessments and flood risk assessment for new developments.
To whom does it sell?
We tend to work mostly on large infrastructure and energy projects for developers, utilities and multinational consultancies needing local, professional expertise.
We are also receive industry guidance commissions from public bodies such as the UK and Scottish Governments, The Crown Estate, Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural England.
Our sectors include renewable energy, such as onshore and offshore wind farms, solar energy and hydro projects, and other infrastructure projects such as power lines, flood defence schemes and roads (including the A9 dualling project).
What is its turnover?
How many employees?
When was it formed?
Why did you take the plunge?
I have been passionate about ecology ever since my dad took me red deer stalking when I was nine. This led me to study ecology at Edinburgh University. However, it was after working with Scottish Natural Heritage and subsequently with ScottishPower Renewables (where I managed the ecology side of wind farm development), that I saw the potential to develop a consultancy which could deliver high quality advice focussed on the needs of regulators and developers.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
I was Senior Ecologist with ScottishPower Renewables. My wife Kirsty, who is the operations Director, was an environmental lawyer at Pinsent Masons.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
There was no funding available in 2009 due to the recession. That said, we were in a one bedroom flat in Yorkhill with no kids, and Kirsty was seconded to the ScottishPower legal team at the time, so this meant we did not have quite the same financial pressures.
I started off working from the kitchen table, but knew if I could secure a couple of significant contracts initially the business would grow organically.
What was your biggest break?
It was more like a series of small breaks in quick succession.
There have been many times when former colleagues and often friends have placed their confidence in me and the company, and I am extremely grateful to them.
I think one of the most significant periods of growth for the company was in the early part of 2012. Kirsty had joined the team by this point and was running the operations side of the business. We knew that if we took on more staff we could tender for, and deliver, a significant number of larger projects. We took the decision to increase our team from six to 13 employees, and moved from a tiny Dickensian office in the Hidden Lane, just off Argyle Street, to our current premises next to the River Kelvin. This paid off and we saw a 22 per cent increase in profit that year.
This was also the period when some highly respected ornithologists joined the company – both Professor Bob Furness and Dr Mark Trinder have international reputations, and having them on the team truly was a significant step forward,
What was your worst moment?
After I had handed in my notice at ScottishPower Renewables, I found broadly two types of reaction:
1. “That’s brilliant news, you’ll do great and never look back”; or
2. “You’re brave, what with the recession, etc.”
The second response could fairly shake your nerve in the early days. Ultimately, you have to have the courage to steer your course.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
Seeing a job done well and seeing people in the team developing over the years into talented consultants.
More generally, while the unknown is scary, we both like new challenges. Your time horizons are shortened, and the choices are yours. We have had children since the business started and, although work/life has been busy, the business has given us the flexibility to enjoy time together as a family.
What are your ambitions for the business?
To continue to build the company’s reputation, to increase our share of work in the renewables market, and to continue to broaden into other key sectors..
What are your top priorities?
The safety and well-being of the team is paramount. Our surveyors sometimes work at dawn and dusk, and this comes with various risks.
For our clients we prioritise ensuring consistent high quality so that they can have confidence in the services we provide them.
Our business development strategy is also a top priority, as well as adjusting it to reflect the shifting sands of policy and, of course, Brexit.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?
The Scottish Government Draft Energy Strategy sets new targets for renewables to deliver half of our average energy needs by 2030. This target is ambitious, and needs the right support from both the UK and Scottish Governments.
We also need to see infrastructure investment in Scotland in order to reinforce economic confidence, and bring about concrete economic growth.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
When I first started I did much of the business admin and book keeping myself. We now have a Finance Manager and finance assistant. Looking back I would have set this up sooner. You need to have the right support around you.
How do you relax?
Running, swimming and heading back to my roots in Argyll to recharge the batteries.